Why do I -strongly- dislike racial languages

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Most of the time, playable (and some non-playable) races are presented with two basic languages: one that is supposed to be their racial language and Common. My problem with this structure is (apart from the IMHO ridiculous notion of one single language for a world that wide and diverse, but which I accept because of acceptable break from reality) is the fact that one race is supposed to have one whole language, and all the individuals knowing it, regardless of political affiliation or social status. I find this solution extremely unbelievable.

Even we, humans, the only sapient race in real world, have a hard time coming up with one common language for everyone despite already being far past industrial age, let alone divided civilisations of a fantasy universe. Why is every Dwarf, all over the universe, from Athas to Eberron to Krynn to Toril, speaking the same exact language? Is it somehow transferred by blood and they're born with its knowledge? Yeah, I know, it's magic, but it's know how real languages work, and it's a part of a setting I'd prefer rather... probable.

What is my alternative, you ask? Divide languages by political borders. If there are five major Dwarven Kingdoms among the Mountains of the Roof, let those kingdoms speak five different, but related languages (which for gameplay purposes would be regarded as the main "Dwarven" language). But look, there's a Human-Mul kingdom next to them? Their main language is not Common, it's the "Dwarven" language. But then again, on the other side of the continent, far away from the Mountains of the Roof, there's a huge peak which hosts an imperialistic Dwarven monarchy, largely isolated from the other Dwarves, but having huge contacts with Hobgoblins nearby. Their main language is, let's call it, Khazu-Dwarven, linguistically almost completely unrelated to Dwarven, and far more similar to "Hob-Razai" of those Hobgoblins.

Heck, in times like this I even want Common to go. Make languages matter again. I know the reason 4e largely did away with the multitude of languages to make sure everybody understands everybody... but that's, IMHO, lame and unrealistic. So let those Linguist feats matter, or allow, again, to "we need a capable translator" or "the guy who claimed to be translator but was a crook" be adventure hooks again. (Of course, it doesn't have to happen every time - most major realms would have learned translators for purpose of travellers and diplomats)

There I come back to the curiosity of the Common language. Humans had the unusual... "honour" to be one of the few races to never have even a racial language, sharing that distinction, oddly enough, with creatures such as Ogres, Ettins etc. - ones deemed to dumb to have their own (total bs imho linguist opinion). How come humans never developed their own language or managed to convince everyone else (including Ogres and stuff) to speak their own? But that was a bit beside the point.

TL;DR, make languages based on political distinction, not racial.
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It has a lot of overlap with the way fantasy worlds tend to use race as a substitution for culture, which is something I find both distastful and unrealistic.    

It's the one thing I really love about the FR, and the one thing I really hate about Eberron (at least as far as humans are concerned).

Each sentient race should have a variety of cultures and languages.  Anything else is shortchanging the richness of the world.   


 
It has a lot of overlap with the way fantasy worlds tend to use race as a substitution for culture, which is something I find both distastful and unrealistic.    

It's the one thing I really love about the FR, and the one thing I really hate about Eberron (at least as far as humans are concerned).

Each sentient race should have a variety of cultures and languages.  Anything else is shortchanging the richness of the world.   
 



Exactly. That's the whole deal behind the talk about languages - both cultures that extend beyond racial borders, and non-human races that have multitude of cultures.
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Well, I like this idea. It'd certainly mix things up rather than "all short stocky people speak this and this language." and "all tall people speak this and this language". Never realised why it bugged me, but your post points it out wonderfully.
I see this as purely a setting/world building thing. The core rules are designed to give you a basis to run a game on and the tools you need to build specific settings as you wish. How would these 'political' languages be incorporated into the core game? The designers have no way of knowing what kinds of kingdoms you will have in your setting or where they are located. Even if you use Nentir Vale and etc there's little detail beyond that area. You can easily decide later on that 'dwarven' is a language only spoken in that one area or that 'Common' is only one human language that was spread by Nerath (so most people you will meet in the area described by WotC products speak it). Nothing prevents you from deciding that the Tiger Claw barbarians have another language, totally unrelated to Common. The barbarians you meet probably speak Common or have interpreters. PCs generally learn it because they live in this area and probably live outside their one group.

And that brings us to why you think languages based on political boundaries are more realistic than racial languages. In the real world humans speak well over 6,000 languages. There are only 200 and something countries. No major language is spoken in only one country either. So languages have little to do with nations and at most there are some powers (one would argue more cultural than political) that spread their languages far and wide. We're speaking one of those now, which was 500 years ago a relatively obscure north western European bastardization of several older languages.

Language can have enormous complexity, and if you were going to appeal to realism you'd have to deal with MANY languages, and many complex linguistic situations, including things like Medieval England where the elite spoke one language and the common people spoke a totally different language. Most nobles in 1200 AD England didn't even understand the normal language of the people they ruled.

I think basically the setup presented in the game works. It is by no means the last word on the subject, but manages to present a usable baseline that products and most starting campaigns can go with.

If you want specific characters to have specific different languages then just offer backgrounds that provide that. A character should normally start with a language that is appropriate to his race and place of origin. If he wants to be bi-lingual then "Background: Bilingia - you are also fluent in Tarnathi" works fine. I could see campaign specific things like some backgrounds offering a language (well, all sailors in the west of course speak Remorian because they run half the ships on the ocean and it is recognized in every port).
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Put very simply, languages work badly for roleplaying games. Consider the following situations:

1. You want your party to know something.
1a. You put it in a language that they all know.
1b. You put it in a language that one of them knows.
1c. You make sure they have a way of figuring out what it says.

2. You don't want your party to know something.
2a. You put it in a language that they don't know and you don't give them a way to figure it out, at least for the moment.

Given that rituals make 2a hard to achieve, excepting of course "The ritual doesn't work for X and Y reasons!", there's really no reason for languages at all, except to make people happy because the world works in a slightly similar way to the real world.
Most of the time, playable (and some non-playable) races are presented with two basic languages: one that is supposed to be their racial language and Common. My problem with this structure is (apart from the IMHO ridiculous notion of one single language for a world that wide and diverse, but which I accept because of acceptable break from reality) is the fact that one race is supposed to have one whole language, and all the individuals knowing it, regardless of political affiliation or social status. I find this solution extremely unbelievable.



   The idea of racial languages is just as much about playability as Common and is no less/more an acceptable break from reality on any other merit.



Even we, humans, the only sapient race in real world, have a hard time coming up with one common language for everyone despite already being far past industrial age, let alone divided civilisations of a fantasy universe. Why is every Dwarf, all over the universe, from Athas to Eberron to Krynn to Toril, speaking the same exact language? Is it somehow transferred by blood and they're born with its knowledge? Yeah, I know, it's magic, but it's know how real languages work, and it's a part of a setting I'd prefer rather... probable.

What is my alternative, you ask? Divide languages by political borders. If there are five major Dwarven Kingdoms among the Mountains of the Roof, let those kingdoms speak five different, but related languages (which for gameplay purposes would be regarded as the main "Dwarven" language). But look, there's a Human-Mul kingdom next to them? Their main language is not Common, it's the "Dwarven" language. But then again, on the other side of the continent, far away from the Mountains of the Roof, there's a huge peak which hosts an imperialistic Dwarven monarchy, largely isolated from the other Dwarves, but having huge contacts with Hobgoblins nearby. Their main language is, let's call it, Khazu-Dwarven, linguistically almost completely unrelated to Dwarven, and far more similar to "Hob-Razai" of those Hobgoblins.

Heck, in times like this I even want Common to go. Make languages matter again. I know the reason 4e largely did away with the multitude of languages to make sure everybody understands everybody... but that's, IMHO, lame and unrealistic. So let those Linguist feats matter, or allow, again, to "we need a capable translator" or "the guy who claimed to be translator but was a crook" be adventure hooks again. (Of course, it doesn't have to happen every time - most major realms would have learned translators for purpose of travellers and diplomats)

There I come back to the curiosity of the Common language. Humans had the unusual... "honour" to be one of the few races to never have even a racial language, sharing that distinction, oddly enough, with creatures such as Ogres, Ettins etc. - ones deemed to dumb to have their own (total bs imho linguist opinion). How come humans never developed their own language or managed to convince everyone else (including Ogres and stuff) to speak their own? But that was a bit beside the point.

TL;DR, make languages based on political distinction, not racial.



  They do this.  They just do it according to campaign setting and not by default because the PHB doesn't know what the political landscape is in Eberron compared to Dark Sun compared to my personal homebrew.

  Also, the comprehend language spell made much of this moot in previous editions.  I didn;t have many memories of plothooks stemming from the need to track someone down so that they could act as a translator.

  Instead, I had guides that knew the culture.  Going into the Shadow Marches?  You need more than someone who can speak Orcish.  You need someone who can tell the difference between the tribes tribes that practice druidism and the ones that worship demons- and how to deal with each one.  Someone who knows that telling a femal Orc that her butt looks big is a compliment, and refusing a puff from a pipe is a grave insult.

  That- I find- is generally more intersting (in reality and when playing a game) than long lists of names for made up languages.
Put very simply, languages work badly for roleplaying games. Consider the following situations:

1. You want your party to know something.
1a. You put it in a language that they all know.
1b. You put it in a language that one of them knows.
1c. You make sure they have a way of figuring out what it says.

2. You don't want your party to know something.
2a. You put it in a language that they don't know and you don't give them a way to figure it out, at least for the moment.

Given that rituals make 2a hard to achieve, excepting of course "The ritual doesn't work for X and Y reasons!", there's really no reason for languages at all, except to make people happy because the world works in a slightly similar way to the real world.



Well, they can at least be used if you want to run a more cloak and dagger type game, with certain players communicating secretly with eachother and such.

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Funny story: InQuest Magazine (I think it was InQuest) had an oversized Chaos Orb which I totally rooked someone into allowing into a (non-sanctioned) game. I had a proxy card that was a Mountain with "Chaos Orb" written on it. When I played it, my opponent cried foul: Him: "WTF? a Proxy? no-one said anything about Proxies. Do you even own an actual Chaos Orb?" Me: "Yes, but I thought it would be better to use a Proxy." Him: "No way. If you're going to put a Chaos Orb in your deck you have to use your actual Chaos Orb." Me: "*Sigh*. Okay." I pulled out this huge Chaos Orb and placed it on the table. He tried to cry foul again but everyone else said he insisted I use my actual Chaos Orb and that was my actual Chaos Orb. I used it, flipped it and wiped most of his board. Unsurprisingly, that only worked once and only because everyone present thought it was hilarious.
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Hi guys! So, I'm a sort of returning player to Magic. I say sort of because as a child I had two main TCG's I liked. Yu-Gi-Oh, and Pokemon. Some of my friends branched off in to Magic, and I bought two pre-made decks just to kind of fit in. Like I said, Yu-Gi-Oh and Pokemon were what I really knew how to play. I have a extensive knowledge of deck building in those two TCG's. However, as far as Magic is concerned, I only ever used those two pre made decks. I know how the game is played, and I know general things, but now I want to get in the game for real. I want to begin playing it as a regular. My question is, are all cards ever released from the time of the inception of this game until present day fair game in a deck? Or are there special rules? Are some cards forbidden or restricted? Thanks guys, and I will gladly accept ANY help lol.
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Not only was that an obligatory joke, it was an on-topic post that still managed to be off-topic due to thread derailment. RP Jesus does it again folks.
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I think I'm gonna' start praying to Jesus... That's right, RPJesus, I'm gonna' be praying to you, right now. O' Jesus Please continue to make my time here on the forums fun and cause me to chuckle. Amen.
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It was wonderful. Us Johnnies had a field day. That Timmy with the Grizzly bears would actually have to think about swinging into your Mogg Fanatic, giving you time to set up your silly combo. Nowadays it's all DERPSWING! with thier blue jeans and their MP3 players and their EM EM OH AR PEE JEES and their "Dewmocracy" and their children's card games and their Jersey Shores and their Tattooed Tenaged Vampire Hunters from Beverly Hills
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.....would it be a bit blasphemous if I said, "PRAYSE RPJAYSUS!" like an Evangelical preacher?
Perhaps, but who doesn't like to blaspheme every now and again? Especially when Mr. RPJesus is completely right.
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I don't say this often, but ... LOL
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You... You... Evil something... I actualy made the damn char once I saw the poster... Now you made me see it again and I gained resolve to put it into my campaign. Shell be high standing oficial of Cyrix order. Uterly mad and only slightly evil. And it'll be bad. Evil even. And ill blame you and Lizard for it :P.
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I'm trying to work out if you're being sarcastic here. ...
Am going to stop you right there... it's RPJesus... he's always sarcastic
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56957928 wrote:
112114441 wrote:
we can only hope it gets the jace treatment...it could have at least been legendary
So that even the decks that don't run it run it to deal with it? Isn't that like the definition of format warping?
I lol'd.
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Uktabi Orangutan What the heck's going on with those monkeys?
The most common answer is that they are what RPJesus would call "[Debutantes avert your eyes]ing."
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...Am I the only one that thinks this is reaching the point of downright Kafkaesque insanity?
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Save or die. If you disagree with this, you're wrong (Not because of any points or arguements that have been made, but I just rolled a d20 for you and got a 1, so you lose).
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This just won the argument, AFAIC.
That's just awesome.
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HOW DID I NOT KNOW ABOUT THE BEAR PRODUCING WORDS OF WILDING?! WHAT IS WRONG WITH ME?!
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+10
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heaven or hell.
Round 1. Lets rock.
GG quotes! RPJesus just made this thread win!
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Blue players get all the overpowerered cards like JTMS. I think it's time that wizards gave something to people who remember what magic is really about: creatures.
Initially yes, Wizards was married to blue. However, about a decade ago they had a nasty divorce, and a few years after that they began courting the attention of Green. Then in Worldwake they had a nasty affair with their ex, but as of Innistrad, things seem to have gotten back on track, and Wizards has even proposed.
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Surely RPJesus gets Niv-Mizzet, Dracogenius?
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First: I STILL can't take you seriously with that avatar. And I can take RPJesus seriously, so that's saying something.
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I'd offer you a cookie for making me laugh but it has an Upkeep Cost that has been known to cause people to quit eating.
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I'm all for this, to such a degree that regional overlaps will ignore racial barriers.

For example, in the northern region of the smallest continent, there is a thriving empire made up oif many races, immediately next to an elven kingdom and above a dwarven undercity. All three will speak the language of the empire itself, as that is the most important language of the region (much as Latin was, once upon a time). A few merchants and nobles also speak the languages of the most important neighboring empires. 

A comparatively tiny percentage of the multitude of races living in the empire speak the old languages common the language of whatever empire their families originally came from. Much like immigrants in the United States will often, for a few generations at least, speak the language of their home country while in the privacy of their home, even as they speak the common language of the empire when out and about.

The dwarves and elves each speak a disctinct regional dialect of Dwarven and Elven, respectively. The closest dwarven and elven kingdoms nearby can almost understand them, and vice versa. However, on the continents to either side, one separated by sea, the other by a narrow land bridge, have difficulty understanding all but a few words here and there.

However, the most learned of the Dwarves and Elves also have a written (but not spoken) understanding of Ancient Dwarven and Elven, respectively, each now a dead language used only by sages and the like for research into the history of their peoples, and by the nobility of each dwarven and elven kingdom to communicate to one another in a common written language.

In that same world, on that same continent, in the southern region, everything is much different. A large desert separates north and south. There is no major empire in the south. Instead, you have many competing, small kingdoms of many different races, along with a handful of large, nomadic societies. Each speaks its own tongue, and many of the more travelled citizens speak maybe one or two tongues from nearby kingdoms, as needed for trade. The nomadic peoples' languages are most commonly known across the region, and are now beginning to be used as de facto merchant tongues.

The elven and dwarven kingdoms in this southern region speak dialects where about half of the language is common with those in the north. Again, the ancient written languages are used as a tool of the wealthy and powerful in those kingdoms to communicate with their own people in the northern kingdoms. 

The rest of the world is much the same, divided simultaneously between both race and culture. 

That makes a world much richer, vibrant, and alive.

It also increases the value to the world itself of rituals and abilities such as Comprehend Language, etc. Moreover, it gives actual value to such feats as Linguist. It becomes USEFUL to take that feat for a few of the major languages of wherever your adventures take you.
Another aspect of languages (as presented in the rulebooks) that lacks in the realism department is that almost no one would be able to read or write.  Obviously, Clerics and Wizards would almost assuredly do both and the Knowledge skills they automatically receive (Arcana or Religion) would imply that they probably do (History might or might not, due to the existence of oral traditions).

So I have four categories for languages: Understand, Speak, Read, and Write.

I give the option of doing it as in the rulebooks, or a player can "mix and match" their language categories.

I do not assume that the ability to read a language implies that one can also speak (or even understand!) that language.  Pertinent trivium: Tarzan from the Edgar Rice Burroughs books could actually read French (as a youth) before he could speak it.

In my campaign, any major empire has the equivalent of a "Common tongue" which is basically the Trade Language used across that empire.  Ancient empires typically leave a language legacy: like Draconic for the Arkhosian empire, or Galifar (common) on Eberron's continent of Khorvaire, which sooner or later devolves into various dialects.  I use dialects of all major languages as valid choices that are based on specific regions.  It is possible to eventually understand a dialect from the same root language.

Scripts of written languages are the entities which persist best through the ages and travel intact even to other worlds.
(Edit: see Tectuktitlay's post above (very nice!)).

In my current campaign, Elvish is more or less intended to be the "Common tongue" and the starting point for the setting is an island, many parts of which are (potentially) Fey Crossings.  The players can come from any one of six different worlds (Eberron and Dark Sun are among them) before ending up on the island at their introduction to the campaign.  This has led to interesting initial character interactions where (for instance) Dwarvish was the only spoken language shared by two characters who were from two different worlds.  One of the Dwarvish speakers uses an outrageous "Scottish" brogue when he speaks in character, which contrasts well with the other Dwarvish speaker's Southern drawl.  Another set of two characters shares knowledge of a similar written language and can communicate that way quite well.

For those interested (or perhaps HORRIFIED at this point Smile), all of the PCs are currently under the influence of a fine Elvish cordial which allows them all to understand and speak Elvish (the campaign's "Common tongue").

I guess my advice to you, Kalontas, is to use the official rules for languages as a starting point upon which to build a more complex system that is specific to your campaign needs, with intimate connections to specific historical references of your own campaign world(s).

-DS
There I come back to the curiosity of the Common language. Humans had the unusual... "honour" to be one of the few races to never have even a racial language, sharing that distinction, oddly enough, with creatures such as Ogres, Ettins etc. - ones deemed to dumb to have their own (total bs imho linguist opinion). How come humans never developed their own language or managed to convince everyone else (including Ogres and stuff) to speak their own? But that was a bit beside the point.

You're overlooking that every D&D setting is really extremely human-centric. Even if it doesn't make sense.

Humans DO have a common racial language... it's called "Common".

That said, in a logical sense you are quite right about the language structure being improbable. On the other hand, so is the throwing of fireballs that explode in a cubic fashion. Parts of D&D are done for easier play.

I was in a party of 7 PCs with language issues, on an alternate Earth. We were in China and Japan. There were three languages of some degree of interest:
* The general population spoke only Eastern Common
* I (my dancer) spoke Eastern Common and Elven
* The shifter PC spoke Western Common and Elven
* Two PCs, the Arab assassin (small a) and the fighter of unspecified background, spoke both Eastern and Western Common
* The other three PCs spoke Western Common

It was rough trying to deal with the language barriers. And we found that, within the rules, there is apparently no way for a character in Heroic to learn *one* language - and a minimum intelligence requirement to be able to learn three.

Fortunately, after a couple levels (and the shifter role-playing trying to learn Eastern Common - complete with the occasional odd comment about someone's grandmother's socks - and the invoker taking the Linguist feat), the DM ruled that everyone had learned Eastern Common and I had learned Western Common. (And the invoker got an extra language for free.)

I would STRONGLY recommend that there be one language which all PCs speak.
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It's the one thing I really love about the FR, and the one thing I really hate about Eberron (at least as far as humans are concerned). 

Huh? What gives you the idea that the humans on Khorvaire (Eberron's main continent) are one unified culture? Granted, they speak the same language, but that is not too surprising considering they have been ruled for 1000 years in the same kingdom and all have the same roots from another continent. Or are you surprised virtually everybody speaks English in the USA and most of Canada? ;) The cultures between humans in Thrane, the Eldeen Reaches and Karnath are hardly the same. Not to mention that the humans living on another continent have their own language, and very distinct different culture (which is also the same over the whole continent - but that is what you get when extraplanar beings use magic to manipulate all humans on the continent). Even more, the non-humans have distinct cultures, and those living amongst the humans are subsumed by those human cultures. The culture of the orcs in the Mror Holds, Demon Wastes and the Shadow Marches btw are also distinctly unique.

In the end, there is a good game reason why languages are simple: in a typical game bothering about languages is fun for one session, but quickly very tiresome. RL languages is simply too complicated for most games and gets in the way very quickly. I never liked any of the complicated rules for languages I have seen proposed.

First I must agree with what some people said it's more about world-building - that's the point I was addressing, that the known settings have this improbable setup of languages - and perhaps any new ones should be given a more realistic approach.

You're overlooking that every D&D setting is really extremely human-centric. Even if it doesn't make sense.

Humans DO have a common racial language... it's called "Common".



I'm not overlooking it, I'm calling it bs. I mean, how did Humans convince Ogres and Kobolds (who hate them) to speak their language? Why did they do it? Was there once, in every setting we know, a huge human empire that ruled whole known world? Better yet, a huge human empire that spanned multiple planes and star systems, which made everybody in all the known settings speak the same Common? And even if there was, those languages would branch off after years of separation.

I would STRONGLY recommend that there be one language which all PCs speak.



And this I absolutely agree with. Before setting up your party, you absolutely need to agree what language is the common language of your party, i.e. which one you use to communicate between each other. If most players are from pseudo-Hellas, while one is from pseudo-Finland and one from pseudo-India, you need to agree that the two odd characters somehow learned at least basic Hellenic during their earlier lives.

I also like what someone said about separating the "skill levels" of the languages you know. In one game I led (based on roughly 3.5 rules), you had four levels of language knowledge:
- communicative (you know the alphabet, you speak a few words ("good morning", "good bye", "would you mind if I sit down" etc.), but generally you're not comfortable in this language
- basic (you can exchange a few sentences, and generally reach some understanding, but you're still no linguist)
-advanced (a near-native speaker level, where you can speak fairly comfortably, only sometimes stumbling on words)
-native speaker (you speak the language as well as native speakers, because of living among them for long)
-illiterate (special level, for when you speak to varying degrees, but can't write, for w/e reason)
Perhaps it's too much for your average campaign, but it's a thing to think about when making your setting.

Sure, the Comprehend Languages rituals seem to render whole languages thing moot, but if you let your players know in advance that if they will travel a lot, you will implement linguistic obstacles on their ways sometimes, and they're content with it, it's an idea - this way the players shouldn't get in your way when you make them bribe the only Troll in the village who speaks Hellenic Human to avoid getting cooked in the next stew.

Perhaps this whole thread is because of my professional swerve, but hey, Tolkien was a linguist and his musings on fantastic languages led us to LotR, and through it, to D&D!
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I think the main thing is that language difficulties are rarely the most interesting kind of challenges to overcome. They can make some fun jokes come up or drive a plot hook now and then, which is great, but they come with the issue that either they're persistent issues for the PCs or they have to 'fade away' mysteriously. It is just tiring on the players to adventure around in a foreign land where only one PC can sort of talk to the locals. It is great for the first session, but after that it begins to pale.

Where it IS more interesting is when you put these languages in the past. Ancient half-forgotten tongues and writing systems of empires who's ruins the adventurers clamber through and the darker secrets of who's history forms an important plot element are GREAT. I go crazy with that stuff and in my campaign I have a whole large list of dead languages and which is derived from which and how they relate to the modern languages, but you know what? I've used the same setting I invented back when I first started playing in the 70's and when I go back to my old notebooks what I find is that LONG ago the used languages in the world devolved down to pretty much exactly what exists in the PHB. I WILL through in some minor living languages which are spoken in this or that odd corner of the world, and the common language on some other continent or the opposite coast may well be different or at least a dialect the PCs will find odd. Beyond that it really does start to get too tedious to add to the game.

In other words you want the ILLUSION of linguistic diversity without the actuality.
That is not dead which may eternal lie
I would keep the core language of the race intact, but offer a substitution features and other languages available via backgrounds, and maybe themes. I find the same problem when you extend language discussion to the ability to learn skills. Basically, skills should be learned as part of a background as well, and the class adds modifiers to specialized skills, and even the race could have specialized skill modifiers.
Language barriers don't have to come up every time. Most of the time, the key important characters in a foreign city will speak some language that the players speak, so the barrier will come up only when it's important plot-wise. Just as merchants and diplomats may speak a whole host of languages, I play the king as literally speaking through his translator - I don't make pauses for king's speech and translator's, I just skip those parts, to deliever a smooth discussion. So, most of the time, as long as you're not trying to pick up a random local chick in a bar, you should get around rather smoothly. Then, when you need it, it's there.
In other words, it doesn't force you to place language barriers, but gives you an option to add them (which you can completely omit, by handwaving it away as "most people you contact know at least one of your languages")

It also, IMO, encourages the players to diversify their group. I've never seen any group lamer than a bunch of humans from the same city, with only one guy playing a Bullywug because he wanted to be different. If knowing a whole host of different languages between all players is actually beneficial (because everywhere someone will understand them), it encourages them to choose one of the so-many option, instead of sticking to "tried and true" - encourages them to try something new and maybe like it.
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Language barriers don't have to come up every time. Most of the time, the key important characters in a foreign city will speak some language that the players speak, so the barrier will come up only when it's important plot-wise. Just as merchants and diplomats may speak a whole host of languages, I play the king as literally speaking through his translator - I don't make pauses for king's speech and translator's, I just skip those parts, to deliever a smooth discussion. So, most of the time, as long as you're not trying to pick up a random local chick in a bar, you should get around rather smoothly. Then, when you need it, it's there.
In other words, it doesn't force you to place language barriers, but gives you an option to add them (which you can completely omit, by handwaving it away as "most people you contact know at least one of your languages")

It also, IMO, encourages the players to diversify their group. I've never seen any group lamer than a bunch of humans from the same city, with only one guy playing a Bullywug because he wanted to be different. If knowing a whole host of different languages between all players is actually beneficial (because everywhere someone will understand them), it encourages them to choose one of the so-many option, instead of sticking to "tried and true" - encourages them to try something new and maybe like it.

Until your scout/eavesrdropping PC realizes he cannot understand what the opponents are discussing. I started running a campaign like you described, and I quickly realized it was either handwaved away, keeping it the same as the core rules (so why bother with complicated rules?) or it was fairly frustrating for the PCs. If you don't want the PCs from learning something by eavesdropping, then don't have the NPCs say it within earshot of the PCs ;)

Besides, if you need languages to force your players to diversify you have other issues*. Whether or not a language will be important is highly dependend on the DM, and what turn the story will take, and cannot be predicted very well in advance. It will always game mechanically be a trap option, and if story is important to your player, than a simple language will not influence how they design their characters. Obviously, it is your game and if works for you, all the better. It is just that I have myself never seen it work.

* Although, to be honest, I am somewhat jalous. I wish my players actually would all create local characters instead of all going for the purple snowflakes - even when we ran an all-dwarf campaign (and it were the players who suggested it I might add) half wanted to play something else than a dwarf ;)

My problem with this structure is (apart from the IMHO ridiculous notion of one single language for a world that wide and diverse, but which I accept because of acceptable break from reality) is the fact that one race is supposed to have one whole language, and all the individuals knowing it, regardless of political affiliation or social status. I find this solution extremely unbelievable.


It all depends on your campaign world.  The defaul world is not large and diverse.  It's small, comprising the space that once was a single Kingdom, and thus, should have a common language.

Also, you'll note that racial languages are, in fact, regional languages:


  • Elven = Feywild

  • Draconic = Arkhosia

  • Dwarven = Shallow Underdark

  • Deep Tongue = Deep Underdark/Far Realm

  • Goblin/Giant = Wilderness

  • Primordial = Elemental Chaos

  • Supernal = Astral Sea

  • Common = Nerath (and Bael Turath before it)

  • Abyssal  = Abyss


In campaign worlds that are vast, like Forgotten Realms and Eberron, there are regional languages you can learn.

If your campaign world is as vast as Forgotten Realms, then inroduce regional languages.  However, be prepared to have it be either debilitatingly annoying for players not to be able to communicate with people, or to watch them stock up on Gems of Colloquy and Comprehend Language rituals, thus making all of your effort meaningless.

Why is every Dwarf, all over the universe, from Athas to Eberron to Krynn to Toril, speaking the same exact language?


What makes you think the dwarven language is identical in Athas, Eberon, Krynn and Toril?

In most fantasy worlds, each race hails from a single geographically narrow area.  "Dwarven" is thus as much a region as a race.  In addition, unlike the real world, all languages derived from a single source, usually, the language of the gods (Supernal in the default world).  In  that sense, what is called "language" is reall more of a dialect of Supernal, sullied and corrupted over the eons by the groups that have lived in isolation from one another.

If your campaign world doesn't follow these assumptions, then by all means change them, but do so knowing that these rules are not "ridiculous". 
I'm not overlooking it, I'm calling it bs. I mean, how did Humans convince Ogres and Kobolds (who hate them) to speak their language?


First, ogres speak only giant. 

Second, kobolds were members of the Arkhosian Empire, which spoke both the regal Draconic language of the Empire, as well as the Common tongue of the non-draconic lands they once ruled (as well as the language of their hated human-****-tiefling enemies in Bael Turath.)  If your world's history doesn't match this, then change it.
human-****-tiefling

I've seen that picture.

Naughty.

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@Madfox11: that's easy. If I don't want them to know the information, I either report that the bad guy is just sleeping or working, but if I want that, add to the bad guys someone foreign (to them) who doesn't speak their native language (say, an Egyptian priest of Seth conspiring with Titan cultists in Greece), so they have to speak a language which is comprehensible to the eavesdropper (besides, bam, you've got a hook that can lead your players to the country of that odd conspirator).

Of course, my groups are usually diverse as well, but same players tend to stick to same choices. Say, Jeff always chooses Dragonborn Paladins, and Angie sticks to Changelings. If the players can see the merit in changing something about their usual choice, it will enhance the entertainment for all of us.

@wrecan's 1 post: Is "Elemental Chaos" and "Feywild" a region, though? It's a plane of existence, a whole universe. By no means should a whole universe speak the same language. It's as far from reality as it gets.

Most campaign worlds tend to present us with at least one whole planet, or most of its cultural centre, at the very least. You've got whole planet mapped up for Eberron, and whole planet's political system drawn up in Athas. While I never paid much attention to most of the plainly faux-medieval worlds, from what I gathered, there's mostly at least an equivalent of Europe drawn up. The references to the past kingdom are designed after the Roman Empire, and while a lot of people in medieval Europe spoke Latin, their native languages were diversified already, some of them originating in Latin.

While I love Spelljammer's kookiness, the one point that was the strangest in it, is that its existence proved my point about whole universe speaking one Common or Dwarven - no matter from what planet your Dwarf came, according to Planescape and Spelljammer, all Dwarfs could mutually understand each other. That's when the real "fridge logic" kicked in - HOW is that possible?

@wrecan's 2nd post: I was just using random races I could think of. The point was "even things that hate humans and never had much contact with them speak their language, for some reason" (which they do, an awful lot of things speak Common, I just can pinpoint them right now, without searching through the books).
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Language should have more of an impact in later games than early level material if you ask me. Once the PCs settle into their routines, you gotta throw curve balls to keep them immersed in the game with something other than the RP and storylines. The game is as much a game as it is a story after all.

That being said, over complicating things to the extent that our dear mother earth has it for a campaign setting might be a bit much. The simpler you keep things, the less to worry about. It may be fun to have the PCs try to translate a dialect of a language they know but haven't heard very often, but it's something that shouldn't be part of the rules as face value. Stuff like that works better as a skill challenge or other similar test of knowledge of sorts, or simply lumped into an RP situation with a translator/guide/what-have-you guy helping out.

Besides, it's rare that any campaign takes you EVERYWHERE on a planet, so the effort put into dividing each places language barriers might be lost if you don't keep it narrow. In this instance, seems more like a campaign specific item than a campaign setting item.
My two cents.

Common was originally described as a trade language, but has grown to be a language in its own right.  So, going from there I conclude the following:

Elven is the trade language of the elves.
Dwarven is the trade language of the dwarves.
Etc.

This doesn't rule out localized elven languages (etc.).  But they do share a common alphabet.

Also, most of the NPCs the PCs meet would be ones that knew the trade languages.  The common, every day farmer out in the field would know his local language, but probably not common since he usually doesn't need to do any trading except at his local general store.  Even then, the storekeeper would know common and the language the farmer spoke, so the farmer doesn't need to know common.  This means if a PC tries to communicate with the farmer, the PC either knows the local language or ends up doing pantomime (or casts the ritual Comprehend Languages).

You have the free will to agree or disagree.
You have the ability to act freely on the above choice regardless of the consequences.

While I never paid much attention to most of the plainly faux-medieval worlds, from what I gathered, there's mostly at least an equivalent of Europe drawn up. The references to the past kingdom are designed after the Roman Empire, and while a lot of people in medieval Europe spoke Latin, their native languages were diversified already, some of them originating in Latin.

It bears remembering that the history of Europe at the end of the Roman Empire was one of violence with new cultures invading the area from Russia and beyond. There was a huge influx of new languages at the time. Furthermore, I don't know about the Latin based languages, but Medieval German, Dutch and English are surprisingly similar and while deciphering such texts is not particularly easy it is not hard for me either (I certainly have an easier time with them than with modern Spanish or Finnish). Finally, despite the violence through which the Romans and the native people living in the Roman empire were replaced, areas in Europe ruled by Romans still mostly speak Latin based languages at this moment even in areas where German tribes replaced the local Celts (say most of France). In that regards the falls of Empires like Narath, Galifar, the Shoon Empire and similar older empires is not the same. Narath for example fell due to internal strife and an attack by a gnoll horde - the gnolls did not replace the humans. Galifar fractured due to mostly intern trouble, but there were no new cultures invading (yet). Not to mention that the shattering of both empires was in the last century, and I am sure most people spoke the same type of Latin 100 years after the fall of the Roman empire. Under those circumstances the presence of a "Common" language is not really that odd even when compared to RL, although obviously you could expect regional dialects, variants and unique languages (rememnants of older times such as for example the Basks, Finish, and Celtic languages in RL modern times).

Note that in these kind of settings, instead of focussing on the RL details on regional dialects and variants (beyond recognizing from what region a NPC is), you could simplify matters by treating the languages from the language tree perspective. Instead of Dutch, German, Norwegian, Danish, and Swedish, simply have people speak German. It is a middle road between the simple rules of core D&D and the complicted stuff of RL.

As for the odd situations in Planescape, Spelljammer, Ravenloft and similar universal settings, from a RL perspective that is odd, but in those kind of settings the characters travel around a LOT. If you follow RL language perspective, it will turn out to be an excercise in frustration for the players and DM alike. Although, you can always argue that since Moradin created the dwarves in all worlds, and has an active involvement with their lifes in all worlds, the fact that all speak the same language is not that odd ;)

@wrecan's 1 post: Is "Elemental Chaos" and "Feywild" a region, though?


Based on its history, yes.  Each is governed by a single unified family of creatures.  Archifey rule the Feywild and Primordials run (or ran) the Elemental Chaos.  These groups made the languages spoken in those realms.

It's a plane of existence, a whole universe. By no means should a whole universe speak the same language. It's as far from reality as it gets.


That's because you are falsely imposing real-world lingustic development on a world with a specific history.  If Americans went and colonized Mars would it be "unrealistic" that all Martian colonist spoke American English? 

The Primordials were the first beings in the Elemental Chaos and they spoke Primordial.  They created all the beings native to that realm.  Is it really incedible to you that those beings all speak Primordial?

The Archifey (which includes the Fomorian Kings) were created with the Feywild.  They all speak Elven.  One faction or another of this group has governed the Feywild continuously since its creation.  Is it incredible to you that they all speak Elven?

Most campaign worlds tend to present us with at least one whole planet, or most of its cultural centre, at the very least. You've got whole planet mapped up for Eberron, and whole planet's political system drawn up in Athas.


And Forgotten Realms, Eberron, and Athas (and Greyhawk) all have regional languages.

While I never paid much attention to most of the plainly faux-medieval worlds, from what I gathered, there's mostly at least an equivalent of Europe drawn up. The references to the past kingdom are designed after the Roman Empire, and while a lot of people in medieval Europe spoke Latin, their native languages were diversified already, some of them originating in Latin.


Um... I thought you were complaining about D&D.  In the D&D default world, the only place we see is the old Nerathi Empire and the races that dwell nearby. 

While I love Spelljammer's kookiness, the one point that was the strangest in it, is that its existence proved my point about whole universe speaking one Common or Dwarven


But, as you said, it's supposed to be goofy kooky.  It can't prove your point, because Spelljammer, with its Giant Space Hamsters and humanoid Hippos, isnt' making any pretense at being sensible.

That's when the real "fridge logic" kicked in - HOW is that possible?


There is no fridge logic in Spelljammer.  Was this thread supposed to be posted in 1989, when the Spelljammer campaign world was in any way relevant to D&D?

The point was "even things that hate humans and never had much contact with them speak their language, for some reason"


And my point is that a reason is almost always given for the default 4e world.  Between Bael Turath and Nerath conquering much of the known world and imposing their language on the peoples who lived within their borders, it makes sense for most creatures found in the default world to speak Common.

If you decide to run a campaign in the default world and then have the action moved to the other side of the world of which we know nothing, feel free to come up with more languages.  If you decide to run a campaign in a different world, make up political languages, just like has been done in Greyhawk, Forgotten Realms, and Eberron.

You seem to think that you've made some new observation about language, but almost all of D&D's campaign worlds were cognizant of this as well.  Greyhawk, Blackmoor, Forgotten Realms, and Eberron all have regional languages.  The 4e defaul world made a conscious effort to explain why languages evolved the way they did.

Your complaints appear to be about Spelljammer, a consciously nonsensical campaign world that hasn't been supported in 20 years, and other people's homebrewed campaign worlds.

I don't care that you want to introduce new languages into D&D, but I don't think you had to first make inaccurate observations disparaging those campaign worlds that do exist before embarking on your fool's errand.
Besides, it's rare that any campaign takes you EVERYWHERE on a planet, so the effort put into dividing each places language barriers might be lost if you don't keep it narrow. In this instance, seems more like a campaign specific item than a campaign setting item.

Actually, in campaigns where the simplification of languages in D&D might clash with suspension of disbelief are actually the campaigns were the PCs travel all over the world and beyond. Even in my current Birthright campaign my characters have already traveled all over the continent by level 13. It is surprisingly easy to cover huge distances if that is what you as a DM want for the story ;)

As for the odd situations in Planescape, Spelljammer, Ravenloft and similar universal settings, from a RL perspective that is odd


Actually, Planescape, set in Sigil, was explained as Common was the language of Sigil, forged from the confluence of the many languages of the planes. (In the days of Planescape, each alignment had its own language, not to mantion various racial languages.)  Language was very much a part of Panescape's milieu.  But, unlike Earth, Planescape is set in a world in which gods are actively communicating with followers.  Whan you have immortals constantly communicating with people around the world, it's a lot harder to develop regional dialects, as you don't have the isolation needed to create distinct tongues.  Instead, the various languages are based on groups isolated by their deities (which is the alignments and/or races with their own patron gods, like elves and dwarves).

Ravenloft is a small setting.  You travel through a discrete number of Dark Domains.  In that sense, Ravenloft doesn't have a world map.  You can spend an entire campaign traveling no more land than the expanse of, say, Romania.  Those people who come to the campaign world are brough by magical Mists, and it can be assumed that part of the Mists' enchantment is to make it so that each person here's the Ravenloft common tongue as their primary regional language or their origin.

Which leaves Spelljammer, which makes no pretense at realism.
Which were the same explemations I gave in my own post Wrecan ;) I can still see how it feels odd to people even though for me personal it is not a big issue - sometimes because it is magic can get a bit old. I personally dislike anything except the current core model for languages anyway. So it is a bit of a non-issue for me.
Which were the same explemations I gave in my own post Wrecan ;)


I know.  I just wanted to expand on it a bit.

I can still see how it feels odd to people even though for me personal it is not a big issue


Me too.  I'm just not crazy with people's need to belittle the current system simply because their own campaign works from a different set of assumptions.  Wanting to add in regional languages is fine, but that doesn't mean the current system isn't fine for its own purposes.

I personally dislike anything except the current core model for languages anyway. So it is a bit of a non-issue for me.


Most non-Common languages in my campaign worlds are dead languages.
Besides, it's rare that any campaign takes you EVERYWHERE on a planet, so the effort put into dividing each places language barriers might be lost if you don't keep it narrow. In this instance, seems more like a campaign specific item than a campaign setting item.

Actually, in campaigns where the simplification of languages in D&D might clash with suspension of disbelief are actually the campaigns were the PCs travel all over the world and beyond. Even in my current Birthright campaign my characters have already traveled all over the continent by level 13. It is surprisingly easy to cover huge distances if that is what you as a DM want for the story ;)




True, but it's also an issue of dimension. Playing in an area of the world then traveling to another in Paragon to get to a different plane nearing epic doesn't really count, since you've only covered so much of what the full world is and it's no longer the world as you are aware of it. Never mind the headache that mapping planar dialects could entail...

To this, it's still narrowing the area down by a large margin. Playing two continents or so is not the entire world ;)

(I mean, unless it is, but then that's it's own little thing XD)

It seems to me that the Comprehend Ritual is not the fix all solution to language complications.  Unless they changed the way it works as described on page 302 of the Player's Handbook it only by default let the caster of the ritual understand a language they heard and/or read, it takes a Arcana check of 35+ to be able to speak and/or write that language.  I mean what was thought the DMG page 42 when describing diffuculty class by level describes a DC 33 check as being hard for characters of levels 28-30.  With the ritual as presented in the PHB, it is nearly impossible to use it to gain two way communitation with characters not sharing a language.

You could impose some form of lingual barrier in terms of game mechanics.  Giving a rousing speech to the Dwarven assembly in Common tongue nets you a -2 because they don't understand it that well.  Giving the same speech in dwarven would net you a +0, because they understand you fine.  Finally, giving the same speech in the regional dialect would earn you a +2, because you can play on the nuances of their language to really get 'em going.

Nevertheless, I've always felt that Language should not be an actual mechanic.  All PCs should know common, their heritage language, and one dialect of each.  They learn more as they make a solid roleplaying effort for it.

Slacker Effort: "Oh, and while we're talking I listen to his accent so I can mimic it". 
^Gets no benefit.

Solid Effort: "I engage the locals in conversation and ask them about words I don't recognize or aren't used the way I expect them.  I also chat people up in the market, trying to learn their euphamisms and metaphors.  This evening as we lay in bed awaiting sleep, I jot notes down in a journal about interesting pronunciations I've heard and words or sayings with different meanings here.  The next day I make an effort to use the local accent and use some of those sayings and euphamisms.  When the knight aproaches us, I hail him with 'How-do m'lord?' as I've heard the locals say."
^This person adds a village dialect to their list.

So on and so forth.
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the Comprehend Ritual ... let the caster of the ritual understand a language they heard and/or read, [but] it takes a Arcana check of 35+ to be able to speak and/or write that language.


While true, for most purposes, that's probably fine.  Being able to understand what's being said, and being able to mime a response will get you pretty far for most purposes of communication.  Essentially, you operate as well as a mute would in that language.

Alternately, the Speech Without Words martial practice does much the same, but is cheaper (and limited to oral communication)

Depending on how available magic items are, a traveler could simply pick up a Gem of Colloquy for speaking the local language, or a Staff of Tongues (to speak, read, and write Supernal), and Reading Spectacles will allow you to read any language.  And a Monocle of Comprehension to share your Comperehend Languages result with your allies. 

Getting to that DC 35 is difficult but not impossible.  If you're willing to spend the feats, Skill Powers and item costs, you can regularly hit that on an Arcana ritual check by 10th level.
@ Wrecan

I never really thought of doing regions like that.  Perhaps I will make common extrememly uncommon in areas outside the normal overworld. 

Play whatever the **** you want. Never Point a loaded party at a plot you are not willing to shoot. Arcane Rhetoric. My Blog.

No, the language system in D&D does not make a lot of sense and is utterly unrealistic.
It is, however, playable and works fine for a game, and that's more important.
Another day, another three or four entries to my Ignore List.
@ Wrecan

I never really thought of doing regions like that.  Perhaps I will make common extrememly uncommon in areas outside the normal overworld. 


I've done that in campaigns.  I find that it lasts one adventure and then, if the party is going to spend significant time in the new lands, someone will want to know if they can "retrain" a language, or if you're going to make them burn a feat to get the new language.

I see the Point-of-Light languages as surprisingly realistic. The misnomer “Elven” is actually the language of the Fey courts and so on. Wrecan ninjaed the point.

Moreover the point by Astromath was well-taken. So, a language like “Elven” is actually the “common” language of the Fey realms - meanwhile various Fey communities also preserve their obscure local languages too.

I feel all foreign languages can be an ability check. Easy for difficult dialects of a known language, moderate for a foreign cognate language, difficult for a foreign unrelated language, especially difficult for a foreign magical language (Fey, Supernal, etc.).

@ Wrecan

I never really thought of doing regions like that.  Perhaps I will make common extrememly uncommon in areas outside the normal overworld. 


I've done that in campaigns.  I find that it lasts one adventure and then, if the party is going to spend significant time in the new lands, someone will want to know if they can "retrain" a language, or if you're going to make them burn a feat to get the new language.



In that case i might give them a grandmaster training or something of equal mechanics to represent them spending the time to learn the language.

Play whatever the **** you want. Never Point a loaded party at a plot you are not willing to shoot. Arcane Rhetoric. My Blog.

To sum up everything on my side, without getting to far in the whole linguistic complications, I agree with the poster who said language should not be an actual mechanic, and as such should not be defined in the books. It's part of fluff, and all races should be able to speak their native tongue (whichever that would be, nation or race or group of races or nations), some trade and diplomacy language of the larger region (the so-called "common") and have an option to speak other, more distant languages. And end it at that - without specifying in the handbooks things like "Elven", "Dwarven" etc. which sound very synthetic to someone who at least dabbled in linguistics. But during the world-building itself, avoid situations where everybody understands everybody without a problem.
That's my ending statement, and while I'll be happy to hear out how other people deal with that in their settings, I don't think I'm going anywhere with this.
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I think there is 2 basic considerations.

1) Are you playing a Game where everyone wants to just roll dice and have fun and work together. Or...
2) Are you playing a Shared Story, where it is not so much about the rules as about the unfolding story and everyone adding to it.

These are very, very different. A lot of people on these forums are going to tell you that number 1 is really all there is. But, having played with the same people for 20 years now, I think number 2 is very much more important.

Number 1 is playing Halo with your buddy, and Number 2 is a shared experience that can be like writing a novel.

You may know ALL the rules, but I KNOW the Spirit of the Game.

To sum up everything on my side, without getting to far in the whole linguistic complications, I agree with the poster who said language should not be an actual mechanic, and as such should not be defined in the books. It's part of fluff, and all races should be able to speak their native tongue (whichever that would be, nation or race or group of races or nations), some trade and diplomacy language of the larger region (the so-called "common") and have an option to speak other, more distant languages. And end it at that - without specifying in the handbooks things like "Elven", "Dwarven" etc. which sound very synthetic to someone who at least dabbled in linguistics. But during the world-building itself, avoid situations where everybody understands everybody without a problem.
That's my ending statement, and while I'll be happy to hear out how other people deal with that in their settings, I don't think I'm going anywhere with this.



Here's what's funny about that though. Who was it that invented the archetype of these languages? It wasn't some famous linguist professor guy was it? I mean OK, the Eldar were immortal and spoke a variety of languages, but basically from what we can tell every elf spoke one of a small set of closely related languages and most apparently spoke several of them, and Common. Dwarves appear to have had a single uniform language, though little is really ever said of their various cultures. They also universally speak Common, a fact which was noted somewhere IIRC. Humans actually are the only race that evince a vast linguistic variety, though again Common is spoken by every single named human character in LotR. Obviously Tolkien never would have pretended that his little linguistic playground was intended to be like any real world, but it is linguistically authentic at least.

And this I think is really the thing. Language doesn't often form a barrier in literature either. Where it comes in is in enhanceing the story. Not be inconveniencing the characters, but by enriching the setting.
That is not dead which may eternal lie